Somewhere, someplace, maybe on a mantlepiece in a dining room or sitting alongside a bowling trophy in a recreation room there might be a bottle of Coca-Cola worth $4,000.
That is if former Army Sgt. William De Schneider, the winner of the Coke in a raffle, followed through with his original plan.
During the Christmas Season I ran across a story in a gift book called "Brave Men," written during World War II by the famous war correspondent and former Washington Daily News reporter Ernie Pyle.
It was in the spring of 1943 on the side of a hill outside Naples where a U.S. Army Artillery outfit was dug in lobbing shells into Nazi positions.
A former member of the battalion who had returned to the states sent two bottles of Coca-Cola to a buddy still in Naples.
None of the artillerymen had seen a coke since leaving the states the previous August.
The soldier drank one of the bottles and decided to donate the other one for a lottery, with the proceeds going to care for the children whose fathers lost their lives serving with the battalion.
Chances sold for a quarter and by the end of the first week $1,000 had been raised.
Then another soldier received a miniature bottle of Coca-Cola from home and donated it for the second prize.
When the fund reached $4,000, the slips were put into a shell case and on New Year's Day, 1944, the brigade commander drew out two numbers.
First prize went to Sgt. William De Schneider, of Hackensack, N.J.
The miniature was won by Sgt. Lawrence Presnell of Fayetteville, N.C.
Pyle who was living with the outfit, wrote, "The one Coke was equal in value to 80,000 bottles back home."
De Schneider said, "I don't think I care to drink a $4,000 bottle, I think I'll send it home and keep it a few years."
The Nazi propaganda outfit in Rome at the time heard of the raffle, and distorted it to say thatsupplies were so short that soldiers were paying $10,000 for a bottle of Coke.
I felt I had to find De Schneider to see if he still had the Coke. I telephoned information in Hackensack and then the Veterans Administration. But there was no record of the Coke-winning soldier.
The American Legion checked their records and said he never was a member.
The VFW and several other veterans' organizations could not find his name among their members.
A Mrs. Collins at the U.S. Military Record Center in St. Louis expressed concern that De Schneider's records might have been destroyed during the big fire of '73, but a computer printout produced 30 sheets, each carrying 16 William De Schneiders.
Ernie Pyle's report must be true because the miniature winner, Lawrence Presnell, was standing on the hillside in Naples when De Schneider won his prize, and verified the event when he was reached by phone.
"I won the miniature," Presnell, who still lives in Fayetteville, said. "It was like the booby prize. I kept it until 1951 when my daughter was running through the dining room and knocked it off a table.
"But I have one just like it, only this one wasn't autographed by Gen. Crane."
Presnell said the outfit went to southern France, then into Germany and returned home in 1945.
"I received a battlefield commission and became a second lieutenant. By actual count the outfit had 785 days of combat," Presnell explained.
Discharged from the Army in 1945 Presnell went to work for Sears Roebuck and Co. for 17 years, retired to run a small golf course and now spends his time with his hobby, making hanging baskets.
But I still can't help wondering what ever became of De Schneider and his $4,000 bottle of Coke. Maybe he still has it or maybe he celebrated a marriage, the birth of a child or some special event in his life by toasting it with a $4,000 bottle Coke-it certainly would have been a unique toast. CAPTION: Picture, Sgt. William De Schneider, left, holding his $4,000 bottle of Coke